Featured article from Digital Jungle


In 2012, the Telegraph reported that for the first time in history, China’s urban population exceeded that of its rural countryside.Even though China’s cities now hold approximately 51.27% of China’s nearly 1.35 billion people, the over 650 million rural dwellers should not be forgotten when Western brands market to China.

This population has often been overlooked and thus untapped by many Western marketing campaigns. Marketers often look at the income gap between the urban and rural populations and thereupon place their focus on the urban population. With the rural population reaching over twice the population of the United States, this article focuses on understanding the people who live in China’s countryside and the importance of adjusting marketing strategies to reach this specific population.

Income is Just a Number

China’s urban dwellers make an average income three times higher than that of their countryside counterparts, but according to Bloomberg, in recent years rural income growth has outpaced that of people in towns and cities. Western brands should deduce that the rural population has increasingly more income to spend on items that they may not have considered in the past.

This is obviously a huge opportunity, but a complicated one at that. This market is made up of many first-time buyers with still relatively low incomes and products cannot simply be cheapened versions of Western products; they must be adapted to the target consumer.

Be Specific to the Countryside

Since many Western brands have left the countryside largely untouched, there is a good possibility that the incoming brand will have to build awareness of the product. This means convincing people that a product is necessary in their lives and it is compulsory to put the product in a countryside setting.

For example, if you are marketing sunscreen, you will want to focus on the fact that many rural residents spend much of their day outside working in the sun, whether farming or otherwise.  One approach is the educational approach: educate your potential customer on the risks of skin cancer, as well as the benefits and risk reduction when using sunscreen.

One obvious faux pas of simply marketing sunscreen in traditional ways is that many marketing schemes traditionally promote its use while on vacation or at the beach; many western sunscreens also market tanning lotions.  China’s countryside residents won’t be interested in something that is for the beach. They are more likely to take interest in a product that will protect themselves and their families’ well-being. An advertisement should show people working in the field rather than lying on the beach.

Many sunscreens also market tanning lotions; this would almost guarantee the product’s failure in China. Whitening cream is popular all over Asia and it would be a bonus to add whitening ingredients to the sunscreen. This is simply an example of considerations that cannot be overlooked. The whitening agents would be universal throughout China, but the education marketing and the location of use will be more specific to the rural population since the majority is located inland.

Create Your Own Market

Proctor & Gamble’s disposable diaper, Pampers, is a Cinderella story for marketing products in China’s countryside. P&G launched a huge marketing campaign in 2007 in a market where disposable diapers barely existed. Today, Pampers are the top selling brand in their category.

How did P&G convince mothers that their brand was the best, not to mention that disposable diapers (or even diapers in general) were necessary? P&G recognized that they must understand the culture, so they sent researchers to the villages to stay with local families.

Through this fieldwork, they strived to understand the culture, the mothers, and their babies and this effort clearly paid off. Not only did P & G adjust their product and their marketing campaign, they also worked to change consumer behavior to create a market for the product.

P&G is well known for its field research, but if it is not practical for your brand to send researchers to China’s countryside, there are marketing agencies that specialize in translating culture for Western brands.

Choose the Right Platform

Now that your brand is ready to head to the countryside, what is your marketing mode of transportation? According to a market research study done by Forbes, “Television is the highest reach medium for every household in China.” It is also important to remember that China is the home of the most cellphone users in the world (over one billion). The power of SMS messages and cellphone QR scan codes should not be discounted.

Earning the trust of China’s rural population can certainly be a tough journey, but the challenge can be incredibly rewarding.  China is constantly growing and changing, so get to know the people and allow your brand to grow and change with the times.


unnamedAlthough a native of Australia, Dr. Mathew McDougall has been involved in the Chinese Internet and media industries for nearly nine years. Dr. McDougall is currently the CEO and founder of Digital Jungle, a leading Chinese social media marketing agency.